Editor’s note: The following is the second installment of a two- part interview between NewsTribune Sports Writer Chris Yucus and former Northwestern University and NFL wide receiver and current La Salle-Peru Director of Athletics and Activities D’Wayne Bates.
The first part of the interview, which ran last Thursday, focused on Bates’s playing days at NU and the NFL. Part 2 looks at Bates’s life in education after his career in professional football.
NT: After your football career was over how did you decide to pursue education?
Bates: I found my passion for education at Northwestern. I came in as an engineer and later transferred to business. I did an internship where we were actually teaching sixth graders in the community English and math and I was in charge of recreation. So we played sports every day — football, and basketball. I had so much fun doing that I realized going into my junior year that I was meant to be an educator. I talked to my counselor and she transitioned me in the School of Education. I knew I wanted to be a teacher and a coach at that point.
I started teaching at Evanston Township High School in 2005-6. I was a history teacher, I taught world history, U.S. history and also sociology for a semester. I got into Evanston because I started coaching. I volunteered with the football team, I coached freshman girls basketball. Wherever they needed, I did it to somehow work with kids. They saw me there coaching and knew I had an education degree. I was very fortunate with the timing that there was a position opening up there and everything worked out that way.
NT: How did you work your way into the administrative side of education?
Bates: I started elevating myself in the sports — where I was an assistant head coach on the football team. It just got to the point where I was getting in position to make decisions. At first when I came in I was a behind-the-scenes guy. I was okay being a position guy but I grew and really started to understand high school athletics. That’s one thing I learned — you may have played pro, but coaching is a whole new thing. I felt like I got to be a better coach each year and it got to the point where I got into a position where I wanted to help make decisions. I went back and got a Type-75, which is an administrative degree, actually my second masters. When I got out of the classroom I started interning as an associate athletic director at Evanston.
It was a wonderful experience. A lot of the stuff I’m doing, I was doing there. My mentor Chris Livatino (the Evanston A.D.) really allowed me to learn how to be an A.D. I asked to learn and he taught me every aspect from having a mission and a vision and where you’re going with it. That’s the first thing I wanted to bring to L-P — just a clear vision statement that everybody knows.
For me that was “Students first; winning will happen.” We went through that and all the other things you need to be an A.D. I all got all those experiences as an associate A.D, and I was also coaching so I was doing a lot. Coming into 2012, Chris said ‘You should try for an A.D. job,” and I thought he was joking (chuckles). He’s like ‘Trust me, you’ve done a lot in this year and a half.’
NT: How did you end up at La Salle-Peru?
Bates: I thought I would take a chance, so I saw what was open on the Illinois Athletic Directors (website) and just applied. I got a lot of calls back, including L-P. I visited five schools around the state.... I went to Champaign, here, Chicago North Shore — all over the state of Illinois.
I was willing to make the move, because I saw it as an opportunity. Wherever I was going to be at I knew the vision that I wanted for the program. I’m single with no kids so it was an easy move to make by myself. So distance wasn’t a problem. I even had a couple opportunities to go to Texas as an A.D/ head football coach.
The biggest thing I was looking for was I wanted a school with some tradition and history — I wanted to go somewhere that had a solid foundation. Secondly, a variety of sports, here there’s 19 and that’s a good number to have. No. 3 and No. 4 were just kids who were passionate to participate and more importantly a school community with parents and fans who were willing to support them. Those were the four basic things I was looking for at schools when I came to interview.
At L-P, talking to the coaches and administration when they interviewed me and allowed me to ask them some questions, I felt that really stood out. I actually drove around town while I was here to random restaurants and asked people about the sports and I truly felt their passion and support. I did my homework and gaining that knowledge made the decision easy when it came down to it.
NT: What has the experience been like for you so far? I know coming in this summer there was a bit of controversy in the community with the shakeups in the L-P athletic program. Was it interesting to come in under those circumstances?
Bates: Even before I came in I kind of knew about it. The A.D.s around the state talk and Chris knew a little bit what was happening here. I read a lot of your articles in the NewsTribune and kept up to date. So I knew coming in what I guess most people would see — the challenges. From my perspective I saw it as a great opportunity. This was a great opportunity to come in and instill a vision for a program that already has a solid foundation.
At that point I didn’t know the individuals — I wasn’t here for that, I came in with a clean slate. … I basically tried to stay away from all of that simply because it really showed the passion of the community in different facets.
That’s again why I chose L-P, because of the passion from the community. With what happened this spring, seeing the community get involved gave me the window of opportunity, like ‘Wow, I can get their support for the program,’ because they’re passionate for their kids here.
At the end of the day I think that situation coming from the spring into the summer and into the fall really helped our program come together. I felt like maybe it was something that needed to happen for a clean slate. But it really afforded all our coaches, students and probably even more importantly our parents to really clean the slate and buy into what we’re doing now at this point.
NT: How do you feel about what you have accomplished so far?
Bates: I’m never satisfied. One lesson I’ve learned from sports is there’s always one more thing you can do better. I feel one very positive thing is that I’m accepted here. You come in here new and don’t really know a lot of people. Regardless of the research I did on L-P, you’ve still got to come in and make new connections with people.
I’m very positive about implementing our vision from Day 1. I think it hopefully is starting to make sense for the kids, the coaches, our staff and the community.
When we say “Student’s first,” what I mean by that is you have to be a student first. A student in school and also a student of the game or whatever sport or activity you’re involved in. You’ve got to watch film, study your playbook — you’ve got to be a student if winning is going to happen. Same with the coaches — you’ve got to get the students to trust you and you’ve got to know them. Because if they get to know you they will play for you — they will give out 110 percent effort if they felt like you treated them as a student first. That’s why the winning will happen.
It takes a lot in that first part — from the students, from the coaches, and from the staff and community. But before we get to the ‘Winning will happen,” we’ve got to have the “Students first.’ I’ve seen it play out a lot, through the fall and now into the winter. I think we’re all getting a chance to understand what it means. … I’m very happy to see the community support that. I was kind of concerned coming in this summer, seeing the schism in the community — from really an emotional standpoint. (I wondered) how I was going to get those people back, when I don’t know them and without them knowing me? Now, I feel like they’re truly 100 percent supportive of the department and the school. L-P had a new plan, there were a lot of changes happening last year. I think it’s finally starting to make sense for everybody and we’re starting to move forward and take small steps. I’m very happy with that.
NT: How has the move to the area been going for you?
Bates: Personally I think after 18 years living in the city that I realized when I moved here that down deep, I am a small town guy. L-P reminds me so much of South Carolina. I love the family diners, I love seeing the cornfields when I drive around. It’s just a chance to get to know the community. It was hard in Chicago — there’s 3 million people. It’s not that difficult to get to know 20,000.
More importantly there’s 1,200- plus students in this school. I know a lot of them by name and I think I can recognize all of their faces. I love Evanston but we’re talking about 3,000 kids. It’s tough to just really get to know the kids individually and that’s one of my biggest goals to know every kid that’s an athlete or involved in a club or activity. If I see them out in the community I want to be able to recognize them as an L-P student. That’s one of the pride and joys about being here, a true community feeling.
NT: What are you looking forward to the most about the future at L-P?
Bates: I think the biggest thing I’m looking forward to is just helping to build a championship program. Part of my bigger vision statement is to help prepare tomorrow’s leaders and use sports and clubs to win championships. That’s not always IHSA championships — I know if you hear the word “championships” you think IHSA, and yeah, we’d like to get every sport to win a state title. But academically we want 100 percent of our athletes or kids involved in clubs to graduate. Because I feel if they’re in our program they’ll be supervised and held accountable academically. So a championship to me is 100 percent of those kids graduating on time.
Socially I want them to build relationships with other people and build social skills — there’s a lot of shy kids around here. When kids are involved in sports I’ve seen so much growth — passiveness and shyness minimized after being involved with a program. From that is where you develop leaders, from 10 kids (on a team) somebody steps up. That’s one of the championships I want to see, leadership development.
Once you get a kid solid academically, you increase their social skills, you train and coach them the right way — then you might win some IHSA championships — but championships to me are about life. A team can have a losing record, but you know what? If they have fun and the coach is doing the best they can, the kids graduate and go on beyond high school I’d rather see that down the road than us win a state title and none of those kids go beyond and do anything that is worth a model citizenship.
My short and long term goal is to build championships here at L-P, but modeled around life skills.
NewsTribune Sports Writer Chris Yucus can be reached at 220-6995 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsChris.